Friday, July 27, 2012

Caponata: Sicilian way of relishing eggplants...

I love textures in my food along with the varied flavors. And if you have been reading my blog for sometime you would know how much I love my vegetables. 

My fruit portions are compromised for my vegetables just because I am more of a savory tooth than sweet. Vegetables make my complete meals many times as I don't miss anything else when my veggie platter is my kinda yummy.

And this Caponata is my kinda yummy...

(2 large servings)
Egg plants* halved lengthwise and then chopped in 1 inch pieces 2 cups
halved shallots or baby onions 1 cup
sliced mushrooms 1 cup
large ripe tomatoes 2 
chopped garlic 1 tbsp or more
 Basil leaves torn, up to 1 cup or as desirable
sliced green pitted olives as much as you want
Peanut (or olive) oil 1 tbsp
tomato ketchup 1 tbsp if in a hurry or good quality tomato paste (home made or otherwise) 1 tbsp
a light drizzle of Extra virgin olive oil when finishing the dish

*red chilly powder or black pepper powder is optional, use if required
*Regarding Egg plants, the small oval variety is preferable but longer ones are suitable too, Avoid the round variety for caponata

Read on how to make it in ten minutes flat...

You can always blanch the tomatoes on the side when you chop everything else and then get ready with the stir frying. The dish is a kind of relish to be served as a side dish. Or it can be made drier as a stir fry.

Mine is something in between as I wanted to eat this with some soft cooked daliya (broken wheat). The meal was awesome. It can brighten up a dull meal within minutes of tossing up a few ingredients in a pan.

The ingredients are all available at home almost all the time as these are staple vegetables in all Indian homes. Just the fresh basil might be an issue for some but you can always rely on dry stuff or just omit that. Caponata will still be yummy.

Fresh basil from my garden makes me really happy in more ways than one...Have you tried growing it? Basil is a nice forgiving plant and grows well in Indian climate. Just try once you wouldn't be disappointed.

Fresh herbs make a difference for sure. They are my life line when it comes to instill life into some dead vegetables. Literally.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mushrooms at it's best : more ways to eat polenta...

Ever since I started adding fresh corn to my polenta, this has become my easy to fix yummy meal. The husband is loving this version of polenta so much that he never ever thinks twice before nodding when I ask if he would like what I am eating. Many other times I make different meals for the two of us. Simple but different. I cook elaborate 4-6 course meals very occasionally.

If you like simple meals for yourself, made the gourmet way this will be the one you would love.

I had bought a packet of Chinese black fungus (black mushrooms) from road side stalls of Mc Leodgunj some time back and decided to use it with button mushrooms to enhance flavor. The dried black mushrooms need to be soaked in hot water, they swell up within 10 minutes to become 4 times their original volume. Cut it in strips or small bits and use as you wish.


Black fungus 2-3 large ones soaked in hot water for 10-20 minutes and then drained and chopped in strips
Button mushrooms chopped 100 gm (1 cup)
English Carrots cut in batons 1.5 cups
Shallots quartered 1 cup
chopped garlic 1 tbsp or more
salt to taste and lots of freshly milled black pepper
Schezuan pepper powder 1/4 tsp or more (optional)
Butter 1 tbsp or a bit more (olive oil if you wish)
Mixed dry herbs a pinch (optional)


Heat the butter in a pan and tip in the carrots batons. Fry with salt and pepper for 2 minutes and take out of the pan, draining the remaining butter..

Quickly add the chopped garlic to the remaining butter in the pan. Fry for a few seconds and then add the chopped Black fungus too. Add a little salt and keep stirring for about 30 seconds before adding the shallots and Button mushrooms. Toss and stir fry everything together till the Mushrooms get cooked and Shallots glazed and soft. Sprinkle the dry herbs and cooked Carrots and toss well.

I prefer scrambling the eggs in the same pan without adding any more butter. This one is with lots of cracked pepper and dry herbs.

Serve over cooked Polenta. This is the same cheesy Polenta I posted some time ago. Scarmbled eggs or boiled eggs on the side is to add protein to the quick meal. And taste too.

This is a satiating meal both of us love. Some weekend brunches are like this when we just talk about a whole lot of things while cooking simple food. Yumminess not to be compromised. Butter, garlic and mushrooms can never go wrong together. Add to that a deep earthy flavor of Black mushrooms and it is a new improved version of the same. Spices and herbs can be anything you have at the time or just salt and pepper if garlic is the king.

In my kitchen, spices and herbs are chosen right at the time of cooking depending on the season and mood of the day. I was planning to cook this stir fry in a Chinese five spice seasoning but settled for a simpler black peppers and dry herbs instead. The decision to add the Schezuan pepper powder was instantaneous. Just wanted some refreshing heat this time. I might have added some red chilly powder to the stir fry if it was a winters day and the egg scramble would have been included loads of tomatoes may be. Or Broccoli as we love that during winters.

How do you decide your spice of the day?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shrimp and Cashew nuts stir fry Chinese style...

 No one else but Kylie Kwong has motivated me to cook simple Chines stir fries at home. Using fresh herbs and tossing the ingredients quickly to get the best of flavors. Her vegetables stir fries, simple soups, vegetables and seafood fried rice recipes and one sticky eggs fried rice have often inspired me to cook simple flavorful Chinese meals at home. Earlier it used to be the Indian-Chines or Chinjabi food that we sometimes had at restaurants and tried to emulate the same at home, during the childhood days. I used to cook even then, all my siblings still love cooking.

It was a phase of watching TV after my marriage that I got to find a channel like TLC and saw so many wonderful cooks luring me to cook good food from all around the world. It was the time I had dropped out from my research to live with the husband, sitting at home watching TV was no fun but the food shows caught my attention. And Kylie Kwong left an indelible impression. Celebrating fresh ingredients and clean flavors was never so easy. Love the way she goes on tossing this and that into the wok creating flavors to dive into.

I have never followed her recipes to the T as I always depend on whatever fresh is available. Especially the greens. Also, I pick up my spices according to my mood of the day, this happens all the time. But whenever I toss up a mean stir fry I emulate her style in my wok. She is on my mind while cooking such things definitely.

The pictures here are not great as we had this shrimp and cashew stir fry for dinner and I wanted to have it warm. Few quick shots to share on the blog was intended.

(2 servings, cooking time 6-8 minutes)

Shrimp (Prawns) 250 gm ( I used frozen, de veined, clean properly if using fresh), smaller size preferable
cashew nuts about 40 halves

finely diced ginger 1 tbsp or more
finely chopped garlic 2 tsp
sliced shallots (or baby onions) 1 cup
chopped coriander greens with stems and all 3/4 cup

one inch piece of cinnamon stick broken
half a star anise broken
4-5 dry red chillies broken
Hua jiao (schezuan pepper corn) powder 1 tsp
black pepper powder 1/2 tsp (optional)
tomato ketchup 1 tbsp or to taste
dash of vinegar if required
salt to taste

Sesame oil 1tsp


Heat the oil in a deep pan or wok. Add the Cashew halves and fry them on low flame till they turn pinkish.Tip in the ginger and garlic and let them get pinkish brown too, keep stirring. The cashew wouldn't get more browned as we add more ingredients one after the other.

Add the sliced shallots and the cinnamon and star anise together. This way the spices do not get exposed to too much heat and diffuse the flavors well into the other ingredients.

Fry the shallots with a little salt added, on medium to high heat, till they just get pinkish.

Tip in the cleaned Shrimps and toss and stir to mix everything together.Keep stirring on medium to high flame till the Shrimps are pinkish.

Add the powdered spices and tomato ketchup. Adjust seasoning , add vinegar if required and toss well to mix.

lastly, add the chopped Coriander greens and take the pan off heat. Do not cook the Shrimp for long as they turn rubbery and chewy when exposed to heat for long.

A sweet n sour and definitely quite hot stir fry with a sweetish crunch of Cashew and the soft texture of Shrimp. The flavors are amazing.

This can be had like finger food as well if a little bigger Shrimp are used. Could be a nice appetizer served with pickled chillies and a little red pepper sauce. Best enjoyed on the higher side of chilly heat. The ketchup sweetness is there to balance out.

We had it with fresh thin chapatis and loved it. The Indo-Chinese love is still there apparently.

Mostly it is enjoyed as is and I have made it for a crowd as well. Such easy to stir up recipes come in handy when you have to cook a formal dinner. A popular dish with guests.

Would be great with some rice noodles or plain boiled rice as well. In that case you might like to make it a bit saucy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Making sprouts at home: using them in the best possible ways : Aloo methi with Fenugreek sprouts...

How to make lentil sprouts at home? It's just a matter of 2 days.

I have been getting requests regarding sprouting lentils at home. Many of you wrote that they get smelly and slimy after a day and nothing seems to work to keep them fresh . Someone asked if they are safe for the pregnant women in the last post of mine. I have never faced such a situation of my sprouts getting contaminated and would try to explain what could be the reasons why the sprouts get contaminated with bacteria or yeast.

Yes, sprouts are a store house of easily absorbable nutrients, broken down by the enzyme rich environment of the growing seed and that is precisely the reason why it is so prone to bacterial contamination. Most common is E. coli and this one can give you serious trouble if you eat contaminated food.

Some of my tips to make good sprouts are listed in the procedure....

  1. Wash the lentils or chickpeas or any beans you want to sprout. Red Kidney beans are a bad idea to sprout and eat raw as they contain some toxins that are destroyed only after discarding the soaking water and cooking it for a certain amount of time. Check out my post on it.
  2. After washing, soak the lentils/beans in fresh water overnight or at least for 4-4 hours. Smaller lentils like Green mung and Brown lentils take lesser time. Two hours is enough for these smaller lentils.
  3. Drain the water when the lentils/beans have swelled up totally. Keep this drained lentils in a covered clean container, preferably perforated or the lid just fixed loosely. You would notice white sprouting of the roots within 3-4 hours in Indian summers and may be 10-12 hours in Indian winters. 
  4. Wash the sprouting lentils once again under direct tap water, holding them in a colander.Drain water, wash the container with washing detergent or change the container to keep the washed and drained sprouts. Cover the container loosely again at room temperature. 
  5. Cover the container with a wet cloth napkin and tie up the margins if you doubt any cockroaches or ants in your kitchen They carry a lot of contamination.
  6. Let it rest again for another 10-12 hours. The sprouting appears longer now, almost as long as shown in the picture above. Now is the time to rinse it again, drain well and refrigerate for a week in an airtight container.. 
  7. The sprouts keep growing in the fridge as well but very slowly, so you would get a continuous supply of fresh sprouts through the week. If they look dehydrated in the fridge, just rinse them once more, drain and place back into the fridge.
  8. Never cook sprouts as the enzymes are lost at high temperature. The broken down nutrients are available to the system well in raw form. Adding them to pulaos and subzis/curries at the last stage of cooking will be smart.

Make the fenugreek sprouts the same way.

Here I am sharing a Fenugreek (Methi) sprouts recipe for a subzi.This is a great dry subzi to pack in your lunch box and I actually did the same. The husband is carrying his lunch to office these days and sometimes he demands potatoes. His favorite vegetable. This one is tasty and nutritious both. Gets ready within 10 minutes time starting from scratch.

Aloo methi made with methi sprouts....

(2 servings as a side dish)
one large Potato, boiled or microwaved till done (boiled plantain would be great too)
a cup of Fenugreek sprouts
half a cup of diced onion
2 tsp of chopped ginger
chopped green chilly to taste
salt n pepper to taste
red chilly powder to taste
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of amchoor powder or lime juice to taste
1 tbsp or more Kasoori methi crushed
1-2 tsp mustard oil or any other oil you prefer for your curries and subzis
(the quantity depends upon what kind of pan you are using and how quick you want to rustle up the subzi)


Heat oil in the pan and tip in the ginger first, let them fry for a few seconds and then add the green chillies and diced onions. Stir therm well to cook a little, till translucent.

Add the peeled and cubed potatoes as well, followed by all the powdered spices except amchoor powder and kasoori methi. Toss well to cook it all till everything gets aromatic and a bhuna aroma is apparent.

Add the Fenugreek sprouts, kasoori methi and the amchoor powder, toss well to incorporate everything. The subzi comes together quickly.

It tastes much like regular Aloo methi cooked with fresh Fenugreek leaves, the texture is very different and yes there is a nice earthy aroma of the sprouts too.

Would you make some sprouts at home now?

The methi sprouts can be eaten raw mixed with other sprouts as well. A nice tangy lemony dressing would ensure they taste yummy and the nutrients are available better.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fenugreek seeds : a yummy salad that helps in lactation..

 And for everyone who wants a nutrient rich salad fortified with good fats.Great as a calcium supplement, rich in potassium. phosphorus and magnesium too. Fenugreek seeds are a known Galactagogue and great for joint health. These golden seeds are great hair and skin tonic as well. Great stir fry for diabetics too.

You would require some Fenugreek sprouts for this easy healthy salad. The seeds take about 2 days to sprout well and keep well for a week in the fridge. It can be an everyday salad if you are a lactating mother, have some joint problems, or just want to improve your hair and skin. So make a large batch of sprouts and store them well.

If you want to know more about the health benefits click here to know all about it.

This link would tell you how it is good for lactating mothers. It has been a popular food for new mothers in many ancient cultures, including India. Methi laddoo (sweet balls with many ingredients including Fenugreek) is a traditional recipe which is a little tedious to make and many of us do not attempt it just because it takes time to make. I have a few pictures of a Methi Panjeeri (a powdered granola with fenugreek) I made for a neighbor once and later for my sister too, will post the detailed recipe some time soon.

Till then, an easier, quicker fenugreek recipe that can be your side dish with any of the meals. Once you have the sprouts ready, the dish gets done within 5 minutes. Inclusion of coconut ensures all the good fats and essential nutrients for the breast feeding mother and curry patta and lime juice all help in better absorption of the nutrients.

To make the fenugreek sprouts , just soak the seeds overnight, drain water and keep covered at room temperature. In Indian winters they sprout slowly and in summers they take just about 12 hours to sprout. The Fenugreek sprouts in the picture are two days old .

(2 servings)
3/4 cup Fenugreek sprouts
1/4 cup mixed lentil sprouts (optional, I used a mix or moth, masoor and mung sprouts)
1/3 cup grated coconut (you can use frozen)
1/4 cup chopped curry patta
2 whole red dry chillies scissor cut
finely chopped ginger 2 tbsp
sesame oil 1 tsp (use ghee if you do not stock sesame oil)
salt to taste
black pepper powder to taste
lime juice to taste

Heat the oil in a pan and tip in the red chillies, chopped ginger and curry patta all at once. Add the salt at this time to fry everything in less amount of oil, keep stirring for a minute till everything gets fragrant.

Add the mixed lentil sprouts and toss well. Immediately add the Fenugreek sprouts and grated coconut as well. Toss everything together and remove from heat. The sprouts just need to get warm, not to be cooked.

Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lime juice and serve as a side dish. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days. I have liked this salad/stir fry with chapati, rice and daal meals and with my khichdi meals too. It is quite versatile.

If you don't get fresh coconut you can use the unsweetened coconut flakes, just soak them in hot water for a while before using them for this recipe. Curry patta will be great if available fresh or try and make a coarse paste of it whenever available and freeze it.See how I do it here. A great way to have fresh aromatic curry patta whenever you want it.

Isn't it great to have quick recipes for wholesome nutrition? For all those who never compromise on taste. Did I tell you that this salad does not taste bitter at all? Coconut and lime juice does the trick, sprouting makes them less bitter anyways.

Do try and let me know.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whole wheat-oats-banana-chocolate-walnuts-olive oil muffins topped with Nutella...aah.. that brown muffin...

 Yes. That is how goes the nomenclature of any complex sounding dish in my home, or when the names are forgotten but the taste is reminded...

Brown waala muffin, white waala topping and yellow wala square khatta meetha cake (Dhokla). The husband always forgets names of the things he likes or wants to eat some day and ends up calling them like this.. Interestingly he never forgot the names of Golgappe, Besan ke laddoo or Halwa, as these are the things he has been having since childhood. Aloo ke parathe and Samose falls in the same category.

Anyways, he loves anything sweet but thank God he doesn't like his sweet treats too sweet. Just a hint of sweetness is good for him, especially if it is enhanced by some natural complex sweetness. Honey, Banana, Dates, Raisins, Apricots are good enough as sweeteners for both of us. I glaze such muffins or cakes with Nutella or Honey or Molasses sometimes at the time of serving to enhance the taste and appearance..

So if a few muffins would find Nutella as a companion, some of them will be dunked in Honey, some others in Date syrup or a slap of any marmalade or fruit preserve that I keep making in small amounts whenever a fruit is in abundance. Mullberry jam is a current favorite till the stock lasts.

This muffin is essentially for those who need to have something sweet as a routine, say once every day.  Complex sugars, wholemeal and nuts make it a low GI food and a little bit of sugar goes a long way. Otherwise if you are someone who wants muffins and cupcakes as food and are looking for healthier versions, I would say you should explore honey roasted nuts instead.

These muffins are the ones who break all rules of baking. Bakers swear by the power of measuring and weighing the ingredients and sticking to the recipe to the T. With these muffins I have often mixed the ingredients by just scooping out and pouring in roughly and they turn out to be great. BUT, that you do when you have been baking for a long time to know the consistency and flow of the batter and you do not miss any ingredients.If you are making these for the first time you have to follow the recipe, Though not to the gram.

(yields 9 medium parge muffins)

whole wheat flour (atta) 1 cup packed
oats 1/4 cup or a little more added to adjust consistency in the last stage of mixing
cocoa powder 1/4 cup
salt 1/2 tsp
baking powder 2 tsp
baking soda 1/2 tsp

olive oil or any oil you find healthy or butter 1/2 cup
(I usually add butter, this time there was not enough butter in my fridge)
fresh yogurt 1/2 cup or use freshly curdled milk
eggs 3
sugar 2 tbsp

2 overripe bananas
1/2 cup broken walnuts


Pre heat the oven at 250 C.
Mix the first six (dry) ingredients with a dry whisk in a wide bowl.
In another wide bowl, whisk the next four ingredients, that is oil, eggs, yogurt and sugar and whisk till smooth
Now mash the bananas and add to the wet mix, whisk to mix and then add the dry ingredients to make a thick batter. Check this picture to see how thick is this batter. Add a little more oats if required. Or a bit of yogurt if the batter is too dry to move the whisk.

And the walnuts too.Makes a lumpy batter.

 Spoon out into muffin liners or greased muffin pan. Keeping space for the muffins to rise.

Slide the tray into the oven, bring down the temperature to 180C and bake for about 25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes as it might get cooked if your muffin size is smaller.

Check with a skewer and take the tray out and let it cool.

 The frosting can be done at the time of serving. Marmalade, jam, honey, maple syrup, molasses all of these are great with these muffins.

You would like peanut butter as well. But these muffins are almost unsweetened. Good amount of cocoa make it deep dark and chocolate bitter and a little sugar that is added is just 2 tbsp, so it tastes like an unsweetened muffin, so a sweet topping works better than peanut butter. If you love peanut butter over it, sweeten the peanut butter or add some more sugar in the batter.

These muffins were loved by the husband. They are still in the fridge and he does not forget to grab one every day even after a super busy schedule. A friend liked it too.

These are not the super soft. melt in the mouth muffins as they look like in the picture. Firm and spongy texture I would say and a rich dark chocolate taste interspersed with walnuts. Nutella does a great job in balancing the sweetness and prettiness.

 The muffins were served to a guy who came to our place to change the UPS battery, he ate it lovingly too. I didn't ask him but watched closely his expressions as I had already told him that these are unsweetened muffins. He was careful while taking his first bite but ate it gladly. He liked them apparently. The kind of person (the worker class) who would never ever taste a home baked or healthy version of a muffin. So I am sure most people would like it.

So there is mostly a positive vote for these muffins. I myself don't eat them much, this is something I bake for the husband. Hence the feedback from others is being recorded here :-)

Hope you all like it...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cheesy Polenta and a warm pumpkin stir fry : the way I like it..

Polenta is a semolina sized granular meal of corn. Cooked into a gruel like consistency, when it gets cold it moulds itself well into whatever it is spread, tastes creamy and soft. It takes flavors very well and I like Polenta over any corn breads I have tried till date.

The problem is, the Polenta we get here is imported and costly. Probably genetically modified corn depending from where it has been imported from. Not worth buying anyways.

We get good quality corn meal during winters as this is the land of Makki di roti te sarson da saag. And we get good quality Corn grits too. I used to get it milled in my neighborhood flour mill, later I saw packets of Corn grits by an organic brand called Down to Earth and bought packets of Bajra and Jowar grits as well. Have been using these grits in many ways since then.

Corn grits found it's way to my Polenta gruel and now I find it easy to cook it in my pressure cooker.

You might like the instant fresh corn Polenta I make with carrots.

I prefer adding some fresh sweetcorn to my corn grit Polenta as well. It gives a rich texture and a multi layered taste of corn. Seasoned with garlic and cheese, it makes a nice base to a salad like stir fry served on the side.

A complete meal for me if I am not too finicky about a portion of protein going in. In that case I would slip in some boiled eggs or shredded chicken too in the same platter. This vegetables combination is a discovery and going to be a regular feature in my quick wok kind of recipes.

Pumpkin and shallots. The smallest of shallots you can lay your hands on. I found some organic shallots and have been going berserk with them.

ingredients for the Polenta...
Corn grits 1 cup (or use a regular polenta and cook according to instructions)
water 2 cups
salt to taste
grated cheese 3 tbsp
garlic minced 1 tsp
coarse paste of fresh sweetcorn 1 cup (just blitz the fresh corn kernels in mixie for a minute)
dash of paprika
Extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp plus some more for brushing the moulds if using

Place the first three ingredients in the pressure cooker and cook on high flame till the first whistle blows. Lower the flame and cook for another five minutes. Or judge the cooking time depending on the grain size of corn grits as this might be different in our country where flours and grits are not graded. 

It should be cooked perfectly, and become a gruel like consistency. Add 1/4 cup more water if the corn grits have become dry. Add the other ingredients and let it bubble a little bit before pouring the mixture into moulds. Or just pour into a plate to serve.

I tossed up the vegetables while the polenta got set in the moulds. I used individual Aluminium muffin moulds for this, greased with Olive oil.

ingredients for the stir fry...
diced pumpkin 2-3 cups (about 300 gm, the orange colored pumpkin is better)
halved shallots (small onions) 1.5 cups or more if you like
sun dried cherie tomatoes 1/2 cup (use any sun dried tomatoes you like)
minced garlic 1 tsp
basil leaves as much as you like, few torn and a few whole to garnish
paprika or red chilly powder just a dash or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
butter or olive oil 2 tsp

Heat the butter and toss in the halved shallots first and then the diced pumpkin as well. I added the cherie tomatoes at this time as I like a little burnt edges, you might like to add them in the last so they just get a little moist and warm, soaking the flavors well.

Sprinkle salt over the stir frying vegetables and toss well to cook and caramelise a little. The shallots and pumpkin pieces should get browned at a few spots.

When the vegetables are cooked through, add the pepper powder and the paprika, the torn basil and toss well. Take it off the heat and keep covered for a couple of minutes so the basil infuses well into the stir fry.

Pour the contents of the pan over the polenta on the plate. If you have set the polenta in moulds, just ensure the polenta is set and the surface looks dry. It takes just 10 minutes to get set and the surface is dry to touch, still warm to eat.

Press the set polenta with your fingers around the edges so it releases from the wall of the mould, tap the inverted mould on the plate to release the moulded polenta into the plate.

Along with the vegetables this was a pleasant meal for the two of us. The husband wouldn't ever eat something with corn grits if it is not this way.

The vegetable combination was liked as well. One of those stir fries that I don't have to ask, just make it being sure it would be received well.

I know a few pumpkin haters would love to have it too. It gets transformed with the caramelised shallots. The basil does the best thing to it here. The chewy sun dried cherie tomatoes are just the right amount of tang it needs.

Many of my friends have inquired about he replacement of sun dried tomatoes. There is actually no replacement for something like this, but I think you can add a few strips of fresh tomatoes in such stir fries in the later stages of cooking along with a few dried apricots to get that chewy effect. Or just go ahead a make some sun dried tomatoes.

I have been clicking a lot of pictures of my sun drying tomatoes every year. Somehow that doesn't get posted on the blog. May be I'll post the series of pictures on my facebook page.

Is that a good idea?